What’s more impressive than a chocolate egg? Answer: around 60,000 rockets fired between two churches on an idyllic Greek island. That’s how Easter is to be celeberated. And that’s exactly how the most important date in the Christian calendar is commemorated on the Greek island of Chios.
Rouketopolemos, aka “Rocket War” where two rival Greek churches fire thousands of rockets at each other.
Saturday night before Easter Sunday.
There are different versions of stories for Rouketopolemos. The first version says that it has its origins in the 19th century, when this war was originally fought with actual cannons until the Ottoman Empire banned this practice in 1889 for fear that they would be used in a rebellion. This led to locals resorting to rockets instead of canons which ultimately culminated into the traditional annual Rocket War.
The second story states that this tradition was born during the Turkish occupation. Locals were prohibited from celebrating Easter the way they used to, so the Christians from the two churches decided to start a fake war to keep the Turkish away.
Amidst the olive trees and almond groves of this breezy village are two churches: Angios Marcos (St. Mark’s) and Panaghia Ereithiani. Similar to many parishes in the world, there is a rivalry between these churches and their respective congregations. It would be a custom for churches to conduct events such as a charity casino or bake sale as competition. However, Angios Marcos and Panaghia Ereithiani think otherwise and opt for Rouketopolemos: the rocket war.
So how is it celebrated?
At 8pm on Easter Saturday, the firing begins. Groups of men begin to fire bundles of self-made rockets that zoom across the gap between the two churches that are roughly 400 metres away from each other. Objects such as cars and sidewalks, buildings and trees are generally hit and lit as a result of the rockets. People drink alcohol and make merry during this time which adds to the entertainment of Rouketopolemos. The sky is accentuated as if it may have shooting stars. It is said that the war ends when the rival church’s bell is hit by a rocket.
Amidst all the rocket chaos, it is amusing to know that people go to church. Evening mass is an important element of Rouketopolemos and is attended by many citizens of Vrontados. The most important aspect for the opposing teams is to see how many hits their rockets made. Keeping aside the fact that not all citizens of Vrontados like to indulge in Rouketopolemos as it is related to the onslaught of small artillery barrages, this festival attracts a lot of tourism and brings in a lot of income for Greece. So, Easter in this corner of Greece is all about fireworks over fluffy bunnies and pastel eggs!